Roslyn Rise, the dated 1970s-era affordable housing community on Twin River Road in Wilde Lake is slated to be replaced with a modern mixed-income amenity-rich complex that would provide significantly improved housing for our neighbors who reside in this community. Yet, the Howard County Council failed to approve this redevelopment at their October 4 legislative session, instead voting to table consideration until a future legislative session.
This article is a detailed examination of the proposed redevelopment and issues surrounding it.
PROPOSED REDEVELOPMENT DETAILS
Roslyn Rise is an existing 58-unit aging, inefficient, inaccessible, and functionally obsolete 100% affordable townhome community built in the 1970s that has served-low-income residents in Wilde Lake for more than 50 years. It’s ideally located within walking distance to Howard Community College, Howard County General Hospital, Downtown Columbia, and is adjacent to schools at all grade levels (Bryant Woods Elementary, Wilde Lake Middle, and Wilde Lake High).
In 2019, Enterprise Community partners, the nonprofit started by James and Patty Rouse, purchased Roslyn Rise along with four similar nearby housing complexes, with an intention to renovate them. Under the plan, Roslyn Rise would be the first to be transformed into new, modern, efficient, higher-density, fully accessible and ADA compliant, mixed-income community. It would be comprised of 153 units located in two new four-story elevator apartment buildings. The project would add 95 new units, 52 of which will be market-rated, and the majority of which will be one-and-two bedroom units. While the community currently lacks amenities, the new development will be amenity-rich; it would include a large after-school tutoring space, a fitness center, community room, dog walk, and a large outdoor patio adjacent to the Columbia Association trail that connects to the existing pedestrian tunnel under Twin Rivers Road leading to Bryant Woods Elementary School.
Existing residents of Roslyn Rise would be offered temporary housing, with moving costs and excess rents paid for, during the estimated 20 month demolition and construction period. Upon completion, residents can move back into a brand new like-kind unit at their existing affordable housing rents.
Here are some of the numbers comparing the units of the existing and proposed redevelopment:
COUNTY COUNCIL APPROVAL
For this project to move forward, the Howard County Council must (1) approval a Payment in Lieu of Taxes Agreement (PILOT), and (2) approve a waiver of the Adequate Public Facilitates Ordinance (APFO) under a special affordable housing opportunities provision of APFO that allows a development like this to proceed despite failing the school capacity test for elementary schools.
At the October 4 legislative session, the Council voted to split the PILOT and APFO waiver and consider them separately. The Council approved the PILOT but tabled the APFO waiver for at least another 4 weeks as additional data and clarification on projected school capacity numbers is sought. The Council can revisit this vote as soon as the November 1 session.
Full-spectrum housing like this is expensive. The redevelopment has already been awarded competitive Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) financing from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and has received other public loan commitments. The income generated by adding market-rate units not only helps support the affordable rents, but integrated mixed-income housing helps build economically inclusive and sustainable neighborhoods. To make the project financially feasible and as a condition of the negotiated loans, the development is seeking approval for a Payment in Lieu of Taxes Agreement (PILOT) agreement that stipulates payments ($177,237 in year 1; $926,911 in Year 5; $1,958,932 in Year 10; and $4,472,091 in Year 20) that would made instead of property taxes. These payments would exceed the projected property taxes paid over the next 20 years that would be paid if the existing development remained, but would be less than property tax projections for the redeveloped community according to audited Fiscal Impact Analysis.
Under the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance public school test, an area is deemed closed for new residential development if the assigned elementary school for the new development is projected to exceed 105% capacity during the scheduled completion year of the project. Bryant Woods Elementary is projected to have 136.6% capacity in 2024-25 per the adopted June 2021 APFO School Capacity Chart, and as such, the area is closed for new residential development.
However, a special affordable housing opportunities exemption in the APFO regulations permits affordable housing projects like this to proceed provide if the following criteria are met:
(1) At least 40 percent of the units shall be affordable to households earning 60 percent or less of the metropolitan statistical area median income;
(2) The project or phase of a project is led by or in partnership with a local nonprofit or the Housing Commission;
(3) The project or phase of a project is seeking or has received an allocation of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits or other state or federal financial assistance for affordable housing;
(4) The project or phase of a project has obtained a letter of support from the County Executive; and
(5) The County Council and County Executive have approved either a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement for the project or a resolution authorizing the project to proceed.
This project meets the first four conditions on this list, leaving Council approval as the last remaining hurdle. When determining whether to approve affordable housing under this provision, APFO regulations directs the Council to consider the capacity utilization of the impacted school and adjacent schools, estimated student generation from the project, any potential for the Board of Education to add capacity through redistricting, facility expansion, or other programs, and the need for affordable housing in the County.
SCHOOL CAPACITY CONSIDERATIONS
Roslyn Rise is directly accessible to its assigned elementary school, Bryant Woods Elementary, via a Columbia Association path that goes through a pedestrian tunnel under Twin River Road.
Bryant Woods Elementary is an excellent school. it is beloved by parents, has an outstanding administration, and has an energetic teaching staff that boosts amongst the highest teacher job satisfaction ratings in the county. It's the very first elementary school in Columbia, and also the smallest, with a capacity of just 361 seats. Yet, the schools assignment boundary includes large neighborhoods in and around Downtown Columbia. Certainly, assigning the area of the county with the most most ambitious growth plans to the smallest school in the county is not a sustainable solution.
The adopted APFO chart estimates that Bryant Woods Elementary will be at 136.6% capacity in 2024-25. This estimate is based on the HCPSS 2020 Feasibility Study. As I noted in a blog post when the 2021 Feasibility Study was released in June, this year's updated study projects significantly reduced enrollment growth in Downtown Columbia area schools, as shown in the table below. The 2021 study projects a 2024-25 enrollment of 119.9% at Bryant Woods but combined capacity utilization in 5 area elementary schools below 100%. Furthermore, while the 2021 study anticipated 101.9% utilization at Bryant Woods this school year, unofficial enrollment at BWES for 2021-22 is 306 students (or ~85% utilization), as cited during the October 4 Council legislation session, suggesting that perhaps even the 2021 Feasibility Study projections are overstated.
38 students (18 elementary, 6 middle school, and 14 high school) from Roslyn Rise were enrolled in HCPSS schools per the 2019 official enrollment report (2020 is an anomaly best ignored). The estimated students that may reside in the 95 net additional units proposed for Roslyn Rise is 47 additional students (23 elementary, 11 middle school, and 13 high school), using a projection methodology that analyzes student yields from comparable projects.
Bryant Woods will be in need of capacity relief at some point in the coming years given all the already approved residential additions coming to the area. This is a question of when, not if. While another 23 students from a redeveloped Roslyn Rise adds to that need, denying this development doesn't alleviate the anticipated school capacity concerns for the school.
Redistricting Bryant Woods students to nearby elementary schools with excess capacity is a potential tool that could be utilized to reduce utilization at Bryant Woods. In addition to the capacity that exists at nearby schools, including Swansfied ES and Running Brook ES, cascading reassignments once ES #43 (Mission Road in Jessup, 2027 occupancy) and ES #44 (Turf Valley, occupancy TBD) can free up space in the area as well. But any capacity reduction for Bryant Woods achieved through redistricting would necessitate either redistricting Bryant Woods walkers or moving out bus riders who were moved into Bryant Woods during the last redistricting in 2019, neither of which are ideal and is likely to face opposition from current Bryant Woods families. Still, redistricting would provide temporarily relief and buy time as the area awaits new capacity.
HCPSS's land bank contains 5 locations in the area for future school sites (Hawthorn Park and Faulkner Ridge, as well as 3 sites - Clary's Forest, Huntington Park, and Dickinson Park - that were donated by the Howard Hughes Corporation as a condition of Downtown Columbia redevelopment). The West Columbia area is currently third in line, and is planned to receive the County's 45th elementary school. However, HCPSS has no plans to build this school anytime soon. HCPSS's FY23 Proposed Capital Budget, which includes a 10 year long-range master plan, does not include any plans to build a new elementary school in West Columbia or provide a much needed renovation and expansion of Bryant Woods. The master plan does include a "TBD Regional Early Childcare Center". If that center was located at the Faulkner Ridge Center in Wilde Lake as the 2021 Feasibility Study suggests, it would free up classrooms at Bryant Woods and other nearby elementary schools that are currently being used for preschool, though Faulkner Ridge would first need to undergo significant and costly renovation.
Downtown Columbia is in the midst of transformation. As the area is modernized and improved with new businesses and housing options, our neighbors at Roslyn Rise should not be left behind in inefficient and inaccessible housing that is vastly inferior to the housing being built around them for other members of our community. We absolutely need more affordable housing in high-opportunity areas like ours, particularly in close proximity to employment centers like HCGH, HCC, and Downtown Columbia. In my mind, it's essential that as Downtown Columbia is built out, we remain true to Columbia's founding ideal that housing options exist for people of all income level. Adding density to compact areas helps reduce traffic and pollution by allowing residents to use their cars less, creating pedestrian and bike friendly environments thanks to the short distances between living, work, commercial, and recreational destinations. This helps support our local businesses, the art and culture scene, and enhances quality of life for all. For these reasons, I 100% support the PILOT and APFO waiver for Roslyn Rise, and I remain hopeful that the County Council will approve it at the next legislative session.
But, I also share parents and taxpayer's concerns about school capacity. As noted above, we are not yet at a breaking point. We still have years to come up with funding solutions to add school capacity in this area, but we need to focus our energy on solutions. Instead of debating how many students any given development is going to yield, I believe our community discourse would be better served examining the potential solutions to fund school capital projects.
One thing that frustrates me is that discussions about development in this county is frequently characterized as a trade-off pitting growth against adequate infrastructure. I reject that notion. Too often I see people throw up one's hand and say we can't grow - we can't share our prosperity with others - we must abandon Columbia's founding principles of inclusivity and our commitment to diversity and equity - that we shouldn't focus on lifting each other up but rather shutting newcomers out - that we can't have nice things like a thriving arts and culture scene or public transportation or new buzzing restaurants or retail - because we don't have room in our schools to add the density necessary to support growth.
Instead of playing into fears of change, I challenge our county leaders and neighbors to examine the relationship between growth, county services, and taxes and focus on solutions to add necessary facilities as we grow. This requires an evaluation of issues surrounding school construction, student yields and funding sources. Contrary to popular belief, the economic benefit of growth, particularly like the compact high-density growth happening in Downtown Columbia, helps fund infrastructure improvements needed to maintain services for both new and existing residents. Meanwhile, is adequate funding for school capacity being captured when a homeowner who purchased their house decades ago sells their house to a new family with kids? It seems contradictory to me when County leaders and fellow residents oppose important projects like Roslyn Rise on the grounds of school capacity concerns while also voting against or opposing legislation like CR85-2020 that would have modified recordation taxes to increase revenue for school funding.
If you want to share your thoughts on Roslyn Rise with the County Council, whether you agree with my perspective or not, there is still time. Please contact the Council (firstname.lastname@example.org) to provide your testimony on CR144-2021 / CR145-2021.